The first time that I suggest to a client that they are a perfectionist, they usually take it as a compliment. They assume it implies success, drive and being good enough. They soon learn that perfectionism is not usually a quality that is helpful to them.
What is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is often deeply rooted in anxiety and lack of self-acceptance. The need to feel that your every action is perfect leads to constant feelings of failure. After all, who among us is perfect? Perfectionism can also lead to giving up, not trying new activities or learning new skills for fear of failure. Some perfectionists would rather not try something new to avoid truly accepting their flaws. The anxiety that surrounds perfectionism can be debilitating to some. Sufferers might experience panic attacks, irritability and depression. Their efforts to be perfect are a means to control the anxiety that results from failure. It can be very challenging for a perfectionist to face their limitations. Perfectionism often causes conflicts in surrounding relationships. The question becomes:
What happens when you are married to a perfectionist?
When one person is easily affected by failure and has unrealistic standards for themselves, these expectations often spread to those around them.
For anyone who is married to a perfectionist, think about the areas of conflict between you and your partner.
- Do you feel criticized often?
- Does your partner express disappointment in you regularly?
- Is your partner somewhat controlling over areas of your life because they don’t trust you to accomplish tasks to their standards?
These can be signs that your partner is experiencing anxiety related to handing over control to you. Remember, perfectionism is fueled by fear of failure and if your partner doesn’t think you can complete a task perfectly, it will increase their anxiety. You may argue with your partner about letting you do things your way or just give up control to avoid conflict altogether. Neither of these strategies are best for either of you long term. Your partner may become exhausted and overwhelmed by all the tasks before them and you may become resentful of their behavior. On the other hand, those who challenge the perfectionism might find the conflict increasing over time with no resolution in sight.
This may seem like a no-win situation for those going through it. What can be done to work through the perfectionism in the individual and as a couple?
Here are some tips to help you set boundaries and reduce conflict related to perfectionism:
1. Identify the problem
We can’t fix a problem if we don’t know what it is. If this article resonates with you, chances are that perfectionism is affecting your relationship. If you suspect that your partner is struggling with perfectionism, bring it up in a kind and compassionate manner. The more you know about the issue at hand, the easier it will be to figure out the next step.
2. Consider individual and/or marital counseling
The perfectionist in the relationship will need to learn coping strategies to manage their anxiety and to increase their self-confidence. Working with a licensed professional who specializes in anxiety is invaluable in improving the challenges that are present. Marital counseling is often a good idea if both partners are unsure about how to change the previous dynamic in their relationship that the perfectionism caused. An outside, professional perspective is very helpful and often necessary to make sure that both partners can meet each other’s needs.
3. Communication is key
As in all aspects of marriage, honest and clear communication can be the difference between a strong marriage or a struggling one. As difficult as it may be to open up about the effects of perfectionism, it is important that both partners feel that they can be heard and validated. Communication can build understanding, compassion and respect between partners. Make sure to schedule time for regular communication. Having a weekly “appointment” to talk after the kids go to bed can ensure that a hectic schedule doesn’t stand in the way of good communication.
4. Know your boundaries
For the partner that is married to a perfectionist, it is important for you to hold on your beliefs and standards without being negatively affected by your partner. You may need individual counseling to learn this skill. When your partner is critical or wants to take over a task because their anxiety is overwhelming, gently remind them of where their anxiety ends and your beliefs begin. Compromise is a wonderful tool in marriage, but sticking to your guns can be as well.
Working through perfectionism in a marriage is undoubtedly hard work. I believe that when both partners are determined to make a relationship work, they can emerge from their challenges with a stronger, healthier and less perfect marriage than they ever could have expected.